Alice Hoffman Goodness continued

You know, the winter has not been so bad this year. Probably because I don’t have to drive in it, not really, working from home. I can largely avoid the unpredictable snowfalls and driving in the early dusk. We are only days away from a glorious 5 pm sunset. I noticed this more when I’d leave for the day to a parking lot that didn’t need the streetlamps quite yet, or my headlights all the way home.

My husband just drove the snowmobile past my window with my son on it.

So, a peaceful transition of power here has taken place and I’m really starting to feel a true new start and a new year in many ways! More on that to come.

Alice Hoffman books continue. I really had a lot of them to read down, so bear with me.

The Red Garden, Alice Hoffman

This is a series of short stories moving through time centered on a small town in Massachusetts, from it’s first settlers in the 1600-1700s and through the late twentieth century.  Family ties to the originals find their way into all of these stories.  

I like Alice’s historical fiction and shorts so far more than I like her novels, I think.  Here on Earth, a retelling of Wuthering Heights that I read a few years back, I felt was brilliant, maybe because I felt she wrote the dynamics of Heathcliff and Cathy so well, but when it comes down to her shorter novels and stories I found I was enjoying this like I enjoyed Blackbird House,  which was the same idea as linked stories through time.  I also find her historical fiction more appealing.  I was immediately engrossed by the story of the original families that came West to claim their own space from Boston and had no idea what they were doing and ultimately were saved by a scrappy seventeen year old who refused to lay down and die in the cold winter.  Having grown up and mostly lived in rural New York I can relate to the small town ness of the stories and the feeling of being linked to an early history.  I definitely enjoyed this one and was sucked up into it when I was not sure I was going to press on through my Alice Hoffman backlog.

The Third Angel, Alice Hoffman

This is another one of her books that are intertwined around a central place and a few characters whose ties to one another artfully converge as the story progresses.  This time it is around a hotel in London, which is different from her usual New England, and it’s The Lion Hotel, rather than a small town family home.  Love and betrayal are the usual features, and families changing after devastation.  A  widowed man and his daughter, two sisters preparing for an ill fated wedding, a maid in love with a heroin addicted and engaged rockstar to be.

Something about this one was more engaging than some of her others.  I liked the sisters and their family story coming together for the wedding, and I could relate to the ways she talks about how parenthood changes you and you love a little human more than you ever knew you could love, a discussion I often have with my eight year old over who loves who more.  I liked the interesting little twelve year old coping with being dragged across the ocean by a beastly stepmother.  The only part of this one that started to lose me was the maid who fell in love with the budding rockstar and how she compromised her lovely and gifted self for him. I had to skim that part because she was willing to be completely exploited by him before she got herself on track.  Other than that near disaster the characters were interesting and relatable, maybe more so for me than in the Drowning Season or The Probable Future.

Okay, one more January to go, and I promise it will be my last Alice post. For better or for worse. Then it will be some books I thought would be fun for Valentine’s Day but not in like a romance novels kind of way.

And then….

Friday I officially canceled my automatic blog renewal, deciding that come mid March, on it’s sixth anniversary, Donovan Reads book blog will be no more. I am going to be creating an author website to publish my book that I have sent off for copyediting and proofreading, and will be working with professionals to get the thing designed and formatted to look amazing. To do it every justice my book deserves and to build my own writing empire. When I have the domain name settled on, I will be sharing that with my readers in hopes that you will continue to read my blog posts there, as I will still be talking books, but also about writing and my published stuff. It’s time.

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January is for Alice Hoffman Books

Winds of change continue to blow in this country as the new year pushes on.

It’s been mild enough for me to be able to keep getting outside, and I love how the snow is blue at dusk. My dog LOVES the weekend walks and its starting to stay light longer so I can sometimes get her out with me after sessions. My poor chickens don’t like being confined to their pen all winter but there’s nowhere to go in the yard. I feel for them. It’s too bad they can’t read to get them through this.

I’m finding that the late fall and winter are just about binge reading for me, whether it be the Snow Reads I used to do (that I kind of miss doing, honestly) or ticking down my back list.

After my Susanna Kearsley books I had a ton of Alice Hoffmans and I have enough of them read to cover me through this month of posts, and it’s mostly her older stuff. Very cool to read an author’s backlist to get a feel for their awesome growth as a writer and admire them making a career in the crazy competitive world of publishing. And she’s so lyrical and I love how she includes details to make things come to life, so it’s good for my writing as well.

Drowning Season, Alice Hoffman

A short, intergenerational family saga that centers around a family living in a compound united by the goal of keeping one of its members from drowning himself in the ocean for a few weeks every summer.  A rich family that came from nothing and how it’s individual members feel trapped in their own way, either by circumstances or love or being consistently prevented from becoming “one” with the water.   This one follows some of the same themes as the other Hoffman books I have been reading, with strained family members who don’t understand one another, and a dying matriarch, and a love somewhere in there dying to manifest.  This one does not have some of the magic that can be interwoven in her narratives.

At times I was absorbed by the narrative and trying to understand an unlikable matriarch who thinks maybe she should repent a little as cancer overtakes her body. Absorbed by the parts of her life where she was vulnerable when she was initially an ice queen.  Other times I didn’t care as much about what happens to her trapped family.  I found the part where she falls in love with the tattooed man the most interesting and how that scrap of her humanity stays with her to her dying days. This family is painfully disconnected and they only break further apart as the narrative continues, so there wasn’t that satisfying resolution.  Although if the family had suddenly truly come together it would have been entirely unrealistic and annoyed me.  

It was an okay one of her books.  Not amazing, and I think it was one of her earlier buildup ones to the mastery of her later books, just a testament to how being a writer is truly a lifelong journey into creativity.   I feel less guilty about a lackluster review when it didn’t score super high in Goodreads either. But as I said, with the context of the time in which she wrote it and still developing, I’ll take it.

Illumination Night, Alice Hoffman

Neighbors on Martha’s Vineyard intersect for about a two year span:  A teen girl coming to nurse her ailing grandmother and a young couple struggling financially and with the demands of parenthood and mental illness. The story goes between perspectives of different members of these two families and their backstories.  

Like her other older works that I have been reading through, this is more that ‘slice of life’ type writing than it is about a plot, a definite story with a beginning, middle and end.  It’s a period of interwoven lives and where they converge and diverge.  That didn’t mean I was not interested in all their individual tales and woes and intersections; I definitely was, but I am increasingly finding that her early books are something you really have to be in the mood for.  You have to be in the mood for character stories and slice of life rather than a high stakes or fast paced, twisty, diverting plot.  These books are really more about getting consumed in individual stories than they are about a unifying plot, per se.

I am not reading her novels in order, I am reading them by what I think I am in the mood for, and working down my TBR, of course, but I’m wondering when she’s going to stop writing about angry disconnected teenaged daughters from mothers that may or may not deserve it.This particular one grows up helping her grandmother and managing more responsibility, but she also goes after the married man next door and has casual sex with most of the eligible teen boys in town, stays out all night, and barely does any schoolwork. Her teen girls all over are falling for the wrong guys and having sex with them.  As this was very much not my own experience or the experiences of many teen girls I’ve worked with, she needs to flesh this out.  This book is from 1987, so way early on.  Also, the love connection she makes in the end?  There was definitely romance to it but the end of the story became a lot about a character that wasn’t big in the rest of the book.    

I did like how she managed Vonny, the young wife’s, agoraphobia and I think she does well with portraying the complications and evolutions of marriage and parenthood.  I like how Vonny’s husband is both annoyed with her agoraphobia but likes having the chance to be the hero in her eyes, even though the marriage has changed in ways he doesn’t particularly like, either, as marriages do. Vonny needs to grow up a little too, as she relates to teen girls more than she does other adult women, even though she proves herself to be a responsible parent.

So all month, like I said, will be the talented Ms. Alice. Might help get us through the snow and all the other anxiety producing things swirling about this January.

I’ve started to make progress toward getting my book off the ground in a real way. Yes, that means changes to this blog project. More to come.

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The Read Down Continues: Alice Hoffman

Okay all my lovelies!!

Like sooo 2021. Not even past the free trial and I’m almost ready to return it. Ugh. I mean, not that my spidey sense hasn’t been twinkling for months that things had the potential to go wildly off track, but I’m one of those people who isn’t used to bad things happening. I’m just not. I’m privileged. Unprecedented times.

I wish for healing and love for 2021 and us all to get back to working on the best possible version of themselves. This includes me who has to make an author platform this year and when it is finished I would love any of my followers to check it out when it’s ready. Already a plug. I already feel shameless.

So, okay. Read down continues. I spent the end of last year in a blur of Alice Hoffman books. I collected a lot of her early pre magical realism, the stuff before the spinoffs of Practical Magic that are so popular right now.

I want to start off this series of posts by stating that no matter how I felt about any particular book of hers, I deeply respect her work. She’s talented and she’s amazing with the way she has built a career as an author. I like seeing how she changes and experiments as her writing career goes on. She’s part of our fabric as a culture. She’s amazing no matter what.

Also these are in no particular order. It’s the order in which I felt like reading them.

Fortune’s Daughter, Alice Hoffman

An unlikely friendship forms between Rae, a deserted, pregnant girlfriend and a fortune teller, Lila, struggling with the old trauma of being forced to give up a baby for adoption in Southern California during the game changing earthquake season.  

Somehow this story was just what I needed, even though I was taking a break from the heaviness of another novel and this had its own heaviness, just different. Readers on Goodreads complain that this one is not as dazzling and magical as some of her more recent stuff, but it still has magic to it.  More subtle magic, times where you aren’t sure what’s based in reality.  Rae and Lila were both terribly emotionally deserted by their families of origin and are only trying to make it in a world where a woman could only just recently have a credit card in her own name. Lila is ambivalent at best about her psychic abilities and more interested in healing the heartache of her past that she can only barely seem to put words to. The reading pulls them together but only because it’s the only person since Rae left home that she’s tried to connect to, not because Lila reads tea leaves.  And Rae grows up when she becomes pregnant and her selfish boyfriend chases the next big break instead of staying home to make a family for her.  She realizes who she is and that she likes that person and her freedom once she gets a taste of it. Maybe it doesn’t have the razzle dazzle of her later stuff but her writing is so beautiful and true that I don’t need to be astounded to keep coming back to her books.  

Also the cover of my kindle edition of this book is way better. I don’t like these random covers that are similar across all her early stuff with like stock images. Mine has a teacup on it. So much more fitting.

I do agree with other reviewers that it was hard for it to end as abruptly as it did, and I won’t say at what point.  I don’t know how she got away with ending it right at a new beginning, but maybe if she went into the new beginning there would not have been a better place to end it.

The Probable Future, Alice Hoffman

Each woman in the Sparrow family is gifted with a psychic ability on her thirteenth birthday.  As one would expect, they are gifts accompanied by burdens.  The most recent Sparrow girl, Stella, can see how people will die, and when she presses her father to tell the police about a murder she has seen, he spins into suspicion for murder that changes everything for the Sparrow women, bringing back together a family that has been distanced from one another way too long.  And bringing a true love together that was long overdue.

All right, so that plot summary is super reductive.  As with any Hoffman novel, the setting of a small New England town with its history of witch persecution is a character in and of itself, as well as ill fated relationships with males and ice cold relations between mothers and daughters.  A family gift/curse that has molded each woman in her own way. The origin story of a girl who comes out of the trees and becomes the object of suspicion because for a woman she is entirely too powerful.  And some nice magical realism in there, as any reader of mine knows I love a subtle but present magic.  So many people and stories and layers.

I had more frustrations with the plot of this one than I did for Fortune’s Daughter.  I wasn’t sure how Stella really ended up estranged from her mother when her mother Jenny gave her all the attention that Jenny didn’t get from her mother, Elinor.  I understand how Jenny ended up taking off with her classic ne’er do well charmed boyfriend, but I don’t understand why Stella, with all the attention in the world from Jenny, ended up with the same angry coldness and the same attraction to negative guys as her mother did.  I’m less sympathetic to her resentful nature, even though at thirteen, it’s more acceptable than if she was older. She acts like a spoiled brat with how she treats her mother. I don’t understand Stella’s ability to relate to her friend Juliet, who has been truly abandoned and neglected, as fun as Juliet is. And Stella’s father Will is truly awful and gets off lightly with every crappy self centered thing he does.  He puts his family in danger and ends up smelling like roses with some inexplicable turnaround.  Like, he gets with another woman who he doesn’t deserve and is just like oh I’m going to quit drinking now because this one woman who doesn’t really know me believes in me.  After I’ve spent my whole life exploiting people and not dealing with my demons.  I can’t.  Maybe I’ve known too many men like that.

Characterization aside, this novel has all the artful writing, beauty and complexity that always draw me back to her novels.

So at least the next two Sundays will be Alice Hoffman books, maybe a third Sunday. I’m glad I did read up some books to have time to be building my author empire for releasing my book this year. So much research involved. Every self pub author I follow has done so much work. But it’s always work, whether it’s researching agents and then begging for consideration from them or publishers or if it’s just setting it all up myself or coming up with the money for someone else to do it. Sometimes I just want to leave the damn thing on my google drive and let that be that.

Stay tuned for more Alice Hoffman goodness this month.

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This is not a Christmas Post

I decided I wasn’t ready.

As I am writing this post my tree is not up yet because it’s pre-Thanksgiving, but when you read this, it will be up and my house will be decorated for Christmas. Not by me. If you need a chat about a tasty Christmas read, this is not your post.

Not saying I don’t have Christmas reads lined up, because I do, but you’ll have to stay tuned for them. Maybe the tree being up will help but I find that a good snow helps with the spirit to come along. I’ve even eaten chex mix and sent out gifts and nope, when I screeched to a halt on a book I’m trying to get through and I needed something else to post on this week, I didn’t pick up any Christmas.

But I do hope everyone’s Thanksgiving was lovely.

Today it is magic! But not happy Hogwarts magic, that’s for sure.

An Unkindness of Magicians, Kat Howard

A world of magicians (the Unseen World) overlaid with ours (the Mundane World) participates every few years in bloodthirsty battles to see whose family is going to come out on top. Enter a woman, Sydney who has escaped from the House of Shadows to turn everything on it’s head. She has power like no one has seen, and, to boot, magic is failing. Sydney wants to see magic fail, based on the sacrifices that she and others have been forced to make to uphold it.

This is a dark, ruthless, bloodthirsty worldbuilding of magic. It’s about power and privilege and abuse of power. It’s not fun times at Hogwarts, not that Harry Potter doesn’t have a dark element to it but this book is brutal. The powerful magicians in it are notably old white men and the main source of magic is the exploitation of other’s magic. This book is about an underdog, absolutely, cold and calculating after years of abuse, but you still like her, and you still want her to come out on top. She’s relatable even if deeply damaged, maybe because we have all had the urge to watch it all burn. Some have been hurt in ways it’s difficult to come back from, which makes the return all the better.

Because I don’t connect as much with the deep trauma, even though well written and constructed, this book could be an interesting, diverting book of alliances and systems and power plays, and it wasn’t exhaustively long with most of the action being in the last, like 15% of the book. Sometimes books with complex systems are exhaustive/exhausting but this wasn’t, the pace clipped right along and even though it looks like it will be a series of some sort there is resolution on it’s own. And I like books about magic and magical worlds in November. I just do.

So, right? Not the loving light of Christmas. I’m okay though. Foisting my treats on different people than usual this year because I usually travel to see my people who get treats but I won’t be doing that.

2020 dumpster fire.

No promises about next week. I just started another portal-y magic book.

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Fall Reads: YA Goodness

The days have been increasing in their fall atmospheric goodness. Perfect for hot drinks and the kind of read you need for fall, whether that’s cozy, or scary, or creepy.

My son is going to be eight years old on Tuesday and I don’t miss the whirlwind of activity this weekend may have been save for the pandemic slowing everything down. It’s somewhat of an experiment to see how much he will feel is amiss once the birthday is over, and I’m guessing it won’t be much. He has gifts coming and his special birthday rituals and I am going to do something special with him on the day and we all might find that keeping it simple was really just fine. Although I just did a sweep and I think I’m missing birthday wrapping paper. I would usually have his gifts done by now…eek!

As for the reads! I’ll do the YA creepy stuff today. I have demons lined up for the day after Halloween as that is a day with a thinner veil and maybe people want something darker to go with the holiday weekend. Right before we shift into end of the year mode (I won’t use the C word yet. I am not even on my C reads).

The Women in the Walls, Amy Lukavics

Lucy’s mother died when she was a toddler and ever since she has been stranded with her father, aunt Penelope and cousin in a rambling Victorian house in the middle of the woods.  When her aunt disappears in the woods a creepy mystery spirals out of control.   Her cousin starts saying that she can hear Penelope speaking to her through the walls of the mansion.  Lucy starts to hear voices too, only to discover her mother’s and aunt’s roles in a deadly legacy.

This one was on my Amazon wish list forever, to be listened to when I found that NYPL had it on ebook. This year has been good for getting through wishlisted scary reads titles, bought or borrowed, which still count as TBRs.  This book was terrifying and haunting in parts, a perfect example of dark YA horror. The voices, her discoveries in the house, the way her cousin’s sanity slipped away and she had no one to help her with it.  The mysterious graveyard on the property that she never knew about, and the random disappearance of her aunt with her father seeming to be too focused on his socializing to do too much about, so you wonder what his secrets are.  It definitely kept me guessing. 

I also thought the author did well reporting on Lucy’s self harm habit and what it meant to her.  So many teens struggle with self harm I think it is helpful for them to see themselves in book characters who understand it, struggle with it, and overcome it.

However I agree with many reviews that some aspects of this book were terrifying and haunting, really worked, but some parts of it fell short of the mark. I struggled with the book being set in modern day when its overtones are decidedly Gothic:  an isolated old mansion in the woods, the girls don’t really have a good reason for not attending public school and just going along with being shut up and bored all day in the house, long standing family secrets.  I feel this would have been better set in an earlier time when people still had grand dinner parties as entertainment and feasibly did spend their days shut up in a mansion if they were rich. I also thought that the reveal came in a rush at the end, where it could have been sprinkled more throughout.  Lucy could have been making discoveries about this mystery all along rather than just at the end.  But do I still recommend it?  I do. If there’s a reluctant teen reader that could potentially get absorbed in a horror book, this would be the one. The inconsistencies I find with it as an adult may not be the same to a teenage reader who gets swept up in this atmospheric novel.  I’d be willing to bet it would have worked even better on my teenage self than my adult, classic Gothic novel reading self.

Toil and Trouble: Fifteen Tales of Women and Witchcraft, Tessa Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood

Fifteen short stories involving teen girls through varying contexts dealing with their power.  Most of these witches are women of color, some of them gay, and are dealing with legacies of prejudice on a number of levels, and of course, rising above.

These stories were fun, varied, well crafted, and thought provoking. Many uplifting and empowering for teen girls to believe in their own powers. Another one that spent way too much time chilling on my TBR.  The diversity was especially appreciated, the women coming out of all walks of life and situations, but similar to all other women in the stories through their undeniable power.

The stories that stood out to me the most were Afterbirth, where a midwife apprentice covers for some midwifery that the Bible wouldn’t condone; Death in the Sawtooths, where a marginalized woman who deals with deities no one else wants to is called on for a favor; and Gherin Girls, where a trio of sisters are trying to hold it together through the challenges that threaten them.  

Awesome young adult reading!

Blood and Salt, Kim Liggett

Ash would be your normal teenager, save that her mother escaped from a spiritual commune and is pulled back…or save the fact that she often sees a dead ancestor hanging above her.  When she and her twin brother find the commune tucked into a ravenous field of Kansas cornstalks, they find a community preparing for resurrection and she finds a boy with secrets of his own that she can’t resist. She has to save her mother before her mother is sacrificed as a vessel in this immortality ritual.

So, I think the title made me think this book would be harder core than it was, or less romance, which is dumb of me because the pitch is Romeo and Juliet meets Children of the Corn.  It has been on my wishlist forever and I scammed the audio off the NYPL website.  I found it hard to get my brain into the revelations and the secrets behind the cult.  All cults have secrets, and this book is like an onion in its layers of revealed secrets.  The ritual and the love that started it all, the abilities that come out of the twins and the story behind a mother’s protection.  It’s an original story, there’s lots of drama around the lovers and obstacles.  As I said, I was surprised with the amount of romance in it, considering all the suspense and horror too.  If a significant romance aspect works for you in an otherwise dark scenario works for you, then it would be a fitting book.  Plus all the corn.

So some YA reads as the fall turns into winter, as we slide into the week of Halloween, however that looks for everyone this year. Full disclosure I don’t miss doing four Halloween activities with my son. I like that it will be two this year. Next weekend, although it will already be Nov 1, I will wrap up my favorite post series of the year with one more clutch of fall reads. I guess life being slower has been good for my TBR after all.

I find that November posts pre-Thanksgiving tend to be a good time to get in any newer books I haven’t made it to with my other reads. I say newer because I don’t always get to what was published this year, but books that caught me when they were new that I made sure to get but other blog themes or writing projects got in the way. If an author I like comes out with something new it tends to be the time I get to it. For me it is a good end of year wrapping up thing.

I wish everyone a happy and safe Halloween week!

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Fall Reads: Harder Horror

I’m well aware that my favorite reads and subjects are more nuanced than they are all out crap your pants on the edge of being grossed out horror, but I can get into the occasional harder core horror story. It doesn’t always have to been teenagers and women with more power than society deems acceptable that fills my reading brain (although I think it will be teenagers again next week. Possibly demons. I don’t know. I seem to have done some serious binge reading this summer). Today’s post, as you have a coffee and think about all the Sunday fall goodness ahead, shall prove that sometimes I’ll crawl into that emotional space of an edgier horror story.

Should I have waxed poetic about it already becoming later October or would that have taken away from this confession that my dark side has its’ needs too?

Hex, Thomas Olde Heuvelt

A town in the Hudson Valley is haunted by the spectre of a prosecuted witch from back in the early 1600s.  With her eyes and mouth sewn shut and wrapped in chains, she is an unexploded bomb tolerated by a tiptoeing town.  The curse: once you know about her, you cannot leave the town for any appreciable amount of time or you will be compelled to take your own life.  So she is a carefully constructed,  guarded, quarantined secret. You know that’s a total setup for things to go terribly wrong when some under-supervised teenagers get to blaming her for the strict rules in the town. How she has caused them to lose family and feel confined against long term relationships or external careers.  Inevitably it goes to crap, her whispering into people’s ears compelling them to take their lives, the consequences unbearable if she is able to use her eyes and mouth.

Another TBR long hanger that I picked up the audio to to be able to read it. This is a classic creepy, horrific story.  I can’t imagine having to anticipate a ghost like that, or any ghost really, rando showing up in my path like that.  And it’s a setup for things to go to crap so you’re just waiting for it to, with the animal harbingers and the bored, disturbed and trapped teenagers.  Too much power shared with too many people.  In fact, I am surprised they held it together for as long as they did.  The town is a character more than the individuals in it, as they are all affected similarly.  Goodreads reviewers and I agree that this felt old school Stephen King to me, with people struggling as a whole against a curse, and it all goes to crap at the end in a way that follows with the plot. So if you like old school King, this one is worth a read.

For me personally, I liked that it was snuggled in the Hudson Valley and kept consistent enough for me to miss the place in the year I lived there.  I like reading a book where I have been, and I like the Hudson Valley, still rural enough but so close to the city.  It was a good place to be, but also it gave the book a kind of Legend of Sleepy Hollow effect too, with historical events in early America still affecting the town. 

Heart Shaped Box, Joe Hill

An ex rockstar, Judas Coyne, buys a suit at an online auction, knowing full well that it comes with the ghost of the man who used to own it. What starts off as a curiosity for a person whose life has slowed considerably becomes a horror story of revenge when he discovers the auction was a setup to buy the vengeful spirit of the stepfather of an ex girlfriend who committed suicide after the breakup. Not only is this dude an angry stepfather, but in life he was a gifted hypnotist who didn’t use his powers for good.  His ghost is scary, merciless and focused on the ruin of Coyne and anyone who tries to help him.  Whoa.

This was a compulsive horror story.  It was an artful balance between intense action and backstory that slowly unravels as Judas and his current girlfriend, Mary Beth/Georgia, an ex stripper/recovering drug addict, run to survive the ghost.  They rake through Judas’ past in a harrowing drive South to get to the family who sent him the ghost, to get to Mary Beth’s old Ouija board, and ultimately to a face off in the home of his estranged and dying father.  I was hooked on the action and then before the action got to be too much, because I can get lost in too much of it, it would slow back down to the stories and the reasons.  The story itself hung together well through the scary parts, gave them context.  I was impressed that this is a debut novel as well and I have seen other Joe Hill novels like The Fireman get high praise among horror readers.  

It also has a resolution with redemption in it. Throughout the story, Coyne is becoming more human in his interactions and ends up staying with Mary Beth even though he has had a failed marriage, I hope that isn’t a spoiler alert.  I didn’t really have expectations for their relationship past the high drama of the story but I guess the whole surviving a disaster together tends to draw a couple together. Mary Beth is much younger than he is with her own complicated past but Coyne tends to be the kind of guy women fall in love with and she’s no exception.  

My only warning for readers is there is a significant element of child abuse/sexual abuse in this story. Horror has to rake people’s deepest darkest fears and traumas to be effective, to meet the needs that draw people to this genre and I get that but if CSA is a trigger for a reader, they should really avoid this one.  

These were both great. I’ve considered limiting the scope of the books I blog about, but my tastes are so wide I don’t have the heart to limit myself. Because I read these ones and I have the Christmas reads listed out to get read. (But I am not far enough ahead to be on them, I’m still getting through the November posts, and that’s fine, because I’m not ready for Christmas books until we are past Halloween).

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Fall Reads: The Magic of Hester Fox

So the post today is about the three books by Hester Fox that I’ve had the luck to come across but the profile picture is a puffball mushroom. Puffball mushrooms were magical and rare as a child growing up in city limits and seeing them reminds me of how I felt when I saw little natural magics in my world. Living in the country as an adult has been a wonderful way to remember the magic as an adult, especially in the change of seasons.The leaves are moving past peak here and we are starting to have those occasional epic fall thunderstorms to bring in another season. I’m absorbing all the beauty I see before it’s snatched away in the cold snowy winter.

Fall is a perfect time to absorb Hester Fox books, historical fiction featuring magical women surviving their worlds. I shall delay no longer.

The Witch of Willow Hall, Hester Fox

Lydia, caught between a prettier older sister and a fiery, imaginative younger sister, and her parents, move to New Oldbury in the wake of an unnamed scandal away from Boston society in 1821. On the surface, the move seems like a good idea:  a place to start fresh in a home built with no expense spared.  Except there’s the conspicuous absence of an older brother and Lydia lost an engagement in the aftermath (which she isn’t that sad about, thankfully).  Their mother is defeated and aloof, their father is focused on his booming business. Lydia’s burgeoning powers as a witch are pulled out of her by the secrets and haunting of the house and land from a previous tragedy.  She doesn’t understand the powers because her mother has never explained them to her, even though her mother recognizes, from an incident in Lydia’s childhood where she harmed another child, that Lydia has inherited the family abilities.  Enter her older sister’s Catherine’s desperation to get married and sets her eyes on a man Lydia is falling in love with, and a family tragedy…

Okay, so this was a debut author and novel last year so it definitely was not on the TBR for years.  Whatever Amazon algorithm out there designed to find me understands me on a disturbing level, as this novel was my jam.  My absolute jam. This is a supernatural Gothic witchy haunted house story at its very finest. Mysteries akin to Rebecca and Wuthering Heights. Ghosts and untold tales, magic.  Absorbing and transporting.

I was glued to the story, the slow discovery of mysteries and intrigue, the understated narrator who seems to be the only one who can see past her own nose in her family.    The characters were all well done and believable in their role in the story. I was rooting for Lydia from the first page and I had to know what happened to her.  And it does end well and happily.  The narrator was so good at layering on the tragedy I found myself wondering if there was enough space left in the book for something else bad to happen to her because I wanted her to be happy and okay.

I wasn’t sure that the narrator was my favorite but I can’t explain why. Maybe she seemed like there was an element of whiny-ness?  I went back and forth between reading and narration and that helped to break it up. 

But, this is a perfect fall, Halloween read.  I immediately took her next book out of the library.  I think I will be a devotee of Hester Fox.

The Widow of Pale Harbor, Hester Fox

Sophronia Carver is a pretty young widow living in a mansion overlooking the small town of Pale Harbor in 1800s Maine. The superstitious town believes her to have killed her abusive husband (although they didn’t know he was abusive) and as a result of her PTSD from that relationship keeps to herself and her home with a faithful servant, Helen, caring for her.  She spends her days reviewing submissions for her late husband’s literary magazine. Gabriel Stone comes to town as a new minister with no real inclination or gift for being one, but to honor the memory of his late wife, who loved the school of thought he tries to spread.  There are a series of strange events in the town with dead animals, dead people, and eventually a murder that they need to solve, as well as falling in love, being truthful to one another and themselves. 

This one felt more like a mystery story than The Witch of Willow Hall, and more like a romance, as the narrator is third person omniscient, instead of first person, so we aren’t left wondering if the attraction is mutual.  And because they are trying to piece together a puzzle that ultimately leads to a threat on the widow’s life. I didn’t find it as Gothic or as intriguing, but I was still turning the pages right along.  I think also that plotlines that involve coming into power are more intriguing for me than a romance, and this felt more like a romance than fantasy, although it was classified as both.  Helen dabbles in charms and spells but there isn’t really any evidence that anyone has magic or the protection spell that Helen feels she cast was doing anything. No ghosts, no ancestors showing up, no untimely deaths of main characters.  No unexplained events.  So it was decidedly more grounded in real life than the fantasy realm and that may be why I didn’t feel as drawn in.  The writing continues to be lovely, the characters intriguing, the setting a well defined entity unto itself.  I was transported to the past. But the draw was different.

Also, same narrator on the audio.  Still don’t like her.  Definitely read this one too for breaks.

The Orphan of Cemetery Hill, Hester Fox

Tabby Cooke was orphaned at a young age and ran away from her cruel, exploitative guardians, becoming separated from her dear sister.  Her whole life she’s been able to talk to the dead, so living in a cemetery with a caretaker who took her in isn’t the worst of fates, until she meets a dashing rake and gets twisted up into a murder plot and the dark secrets of powerful men in 1840s Boston.  She ultimately needs to learn to work with, rather than against her powers to help others and save herself.

This one has all the Gothic goodness ingredients: orphans, spiritual powers, nefarious people in power with dark secrets, handsome rakes that seem unattainable.  It doesn’t have a prophecy or a curse but I feel that would have been overdoing it.  All my favorite things, but I didn’t quite connect with this one like I did the other two.  Admittedly, The Witch of Willow Hall is an incredibly hard act to follow, and I kinda knew that when I read Widow and then pre ordered this one for some author love karma.  This one hasn’t even been on the shelves for a month!  And it’s on this blog!  Anyway.  

I didn’t completely enjoy the rake but I have a hard time enjoying them because I have read too many victorian novels to feel like they are anything but a means of destruction for a virtuous young lady of no means.  I wanted a guy who was more believable and less wish fulfillment, even though he does have a decent character arc that makes him more deserving. And there wasn’t really time in the plot for the change in her power to go from overwhelming and scary to manageable.  Managing your powers in my opinion is like a life struggle, not something you get to in like a year because you can see that it helps people.  How does she set boundaries with it with no one to help her manage that?  So many good elements here and a great setting, and I hate to say I didn’t connect with it as well because it’s damn hard to be an author, and so much goes in to writing a book and I don’t want to dismiss all that went into it by being like, eh.  And let’s be real, it’s not like I’ve broken into publishing myself.

I still have love for this author and her work.

Still not a huge fan of the narrator.  I forgot I didn’t like her in the other two books because I ready them months ago and pre ordered this beast that came out in September and wanted to read it and then combine all three into one post.  Ugh.  I hate not liking narrators either. 

So there you have it. One of the most perfect authors for the changing of seasons! Check her out if you haven’t already!

I’m slugging along trying to find an agent for my book. I have slowed considerably the search and harassment of agents but still working on my shorts. I continue to wait on responses for some short things I sent in at the end of August. My attention is being fulfilled in other directions but I haven’t worked on writing my whole life and since my child was little to give up once some spiritual stuff resurfaces!

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Fall Reads: Witchy October

Welp, now the fall is real. The trees are making their show and the temps are dropping after some last ditch warmer days. I like seeing my friends on social media absorbing all the nature and tranquility they can in the midst of everything else that’s crazy.

And let’s face it, things are crazy. I’m delighted school has been able to complete three weeks of hybrid instruction and should be able to keep going for the time being. That sliver of normalcy has made me crave more though, and I find as it gets colder I am missing being able to take my son to a movie on a weekend. I understand safety measures and I believe my frustration with this is placed where it should be, but it doesn’t change the fact.

So much witchery in this TBR decimating reading season. So much. I can’t help if I relate to powerful women who push against the norms.

The books here are teen witches but less about the high school context. More about a historical context and I’m doing three today because they have this overlap of women from a different time and context impacting worlds they aren’t supposed to be able to impact. Are witches solely because they can.

The Wicked Deep, Shea Ernshaw

Penny Talbot lives in a town in the Pacific Northwest that is haunted by a centuries old curse.  Every year, the spirits of drowned witches return from the sea and exact their revenge on the town by drowning a few of its residents between the first day of June and the summer solstice.  When a newcomer arrives at the island, he gets swept up in its intrigues, unbeknownst to him, he is an integral part of breaking the curse.

This book has looked delicious since its release and I finally got it on audio to read it for this fall’s reads.  It did not disappoint.  Even though it takes place in June the setting makes it atmospheric and dark rather than summery and bright.  Penny’s family is bereft and broken with its own unsolved mysteries when the newcomer gets off the bus and meets Penny at the beginning of summer beach party. The unraveling of the plot and the secrets is lovely and kept me going and it had a decent resolution. I like how the newcomer questions the town’s acceptance of the drownings every summer, the tourist spectacle that it has become, and how his own story is ultimately a part of it all.  How do we even battle the supernatural, even when the curses we brought upon ourselves are devastating?  These stories of cursed towns I have been reading are all about people’s misguided attempts to be in control, only to have them blossom into a bigger and much more unwieldy problem.  I definitely bought her second book, Winterwood, Saturday morning. I made serious progress to my list until I want the new releases too. Signs of an addict.

The Year of the Witching, Alexis Henderson

Emmanuelle is a young woman whose very origin is a scandal. She lives in a religious settlement, complete with an authoritarian Prophet, polygamy, and strict gender divisions.  She comes from a line of midwives, her own mother being one slated as a prophet’s bride before she chose her own path and ultimately died in ruin.  When Emmanuelle is lured into the Dark Forest she unintentionally ignites a prophecy (complete with a sighting of Lilith herself) and puts it upon herself to save her people from the disasters that follow, with the help of the current Prophet’s son and successor. 

So I still have witchy TBR books, but I can’t tell you I didn’t poke around on my library websites for audiobooks with Witch in the title and move some ahead of the line.  Because I am shameless. This was released summer 2020 AND it is a debut author, and with my fervent wish to be a debut author myself, I am trying to support new authors practically and of course with karma.   So it’s a shameless line jumper, but it’s SO appropriate to the garbage fire that is 2020 (because this book is about a garbage fire year too) and it’s beautifully written, the world building is tight, the pacing appropriate and Emmanuelle is an awesome heroine/accidental unleasher/object of revenge, curses and wrath.  She just wants to fit in but kind of doesn’t and it makes sense to her once she stumbles upon her late mother’s dark secrets.  It’s coming of age times about a million. This is old school biblical women are the root of all evil witching.  Where the stories to keep powerful women down began.  And while I love fun witchy books, witches came from a real fear of women with power, and those dark tales are important too.  Loved it.  Excited to see what else Ms. Henderson comes out with, and I fully understand how this one broke into publishing.  A-mazing.

The Familiars, Stacey Halls

Fleetwood is a pregnant member of the British aristocracy in 1612 when she comes across a letter from a doctor to her husband indicating that her next attempted childbirth will kill her.  She is desperate to carry her fourth pregnancy to term, as the other three have ended in miscarriages and stillbirths, to hold together her marriage and keep her place in her home.  Friendless and desperate, she meets a woman, Alice, who Fleetwood believes is integral in making this pregnancy end successfully, but Alice gets entwined in the witch hunt of the time, merely through trying to help someone. Fleetwood comes to believe that only she can spare Alice the rope, and only Alice can get Fleetwood and her baby safely through the pregnancy and birth.   All through we aren’t sure what powers Alice possesses, if any at all, as Fleetwood learns the nature of the witchcraft accusations of the time.

Interestingly, both of these women are actual historical figures, but the juxtaposition of them is purely fictional.  I find this fascinating, a writer who can take real elements of history and make them her own without deviating too much from the facts. If there’s one thing I love to do is google a historical character and see their pictures and read Wikipedia articles.   The history of persecuting women who have any sort of power in this world is devastating, and makes me really glad I don’t live in a time where I could get hanged for my work as a therapist, but these women’s stories against their historical context is fascinating. I liked Fleetwood as a character very much, her loneliness was palpable in her life story and even in parts of her marriage, despite all her money and title in the world, and you find that women’s plights are similar across time and socioeconomic status.  She was a bit independent for her time, but I find that none of the modern historical fiction stories would be very good if the women always behaved in them.  I like that Fleetwood also is able to take notice of her privilege, of her ready resources of a horse any time she wants one or staff to free up her leisure time, even if she is dangling at the precipice of life and limb herself.   I thought this book was well done.  I was transported into the 1600s and a world that was still mysterious, dark, and cruel. And like I always say, I’m thrilled that my survival and standing never depended on my ability to make a baby.

Loving this atmospheric fall and the reads that go with it. Working on my spirituality amid the crazy and got my own little firepit so I don’t have to have my husband’s participation if I want a cozy little flame back in the trees. Awesome. Looking for the good in the world right now and learning tarot cards. A woman like me who loves stories, healing, helping others and a feeling of magic and awe needs to read cards. I just do.

And trying to move ahead with writing.

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Reads as it gets colder

Photo credit: Zac Baldwin

Labor Day weekend is so different for me this year. My son is not going back to school until the 14, so I have another whole week home with him, and usually we gather at my parents house for the final summer holiday weekend. My parents are closing on my childhood home in a week and moved out months ago, on top of the fact I’m too concerned about bringing the virus to them to gather with them where they are now. The temps are dropping and I see the trees thinking about changing color, and I am thinking about taking my son apple picking, but my personal family traditions just got turned on their head in this crazy dumpster fire year. I didn’t spend the summer sitting in camp chairs on field sidelines or taking my son to special camps.

So this is the crossover from summer so I am posting on books that sneak a toe into the darker subjects. Not hurtling us into pumpkin season. Although I may have already had a pumpkin coffee. They are an interesting mashup of books but both worth the read.

The Bone Houses, Emily Lloyd-Jones

Ryn, a teenage girl come head of family come grave digger, sets out with a wayward semi aristocratic mapmaker (Ellis) to destroy the source of everlasting life that is causing zombies to invade her land and cause all sorts of issues.  They are called Bone Houses and of course they are not so simplified as the cinematic representation of them crawling through the forest moaning “brains” every three minutes.  The reason for the everlasting life is set in a Welsh fairytale.

This was really well done.  I see calls for agents still willing to consider fairytale/folk stories as long as they are well done, preferably not well known, and I feel like I’m seeing more interest in non Western folk and fairy tales too.  There is an origin tale inside the story and I don’t know how close it is to the original fairy tale, which is good because I feel like I’m read up on the most common ones.  I listen to the Myths and Legends podcast sometimes too for story ideas and examples and I hadn’t come across this.  I read it after The Tenth Girl because it was an audible sale and I thought it would be more Gothic than it was. And I like to read on a theme, but lately YA has mostly been the theme. I really liked how the mapmaker was one of those on the fringes of the elite and how he straddled those two worlds and I liked how Ryn was headstrong and fiercely dedicated to her family. I loved the twists and turns in this book, too, and I don’t want to out those too much because the way the story unfolds is really part of the magic of the book.   And there is closure for the people who are seeking it.  Interesting, multifaceted, and well done.

Tunnel of Bones, Victoria Schwab

Cassidy Blake is a tween girl who follows her parents around the globe as they film a ghost hunting TV show. Unbeknownst to her parents, her own brush with death has afforded her the ability to see the other side of the veil, and the catacombs of Paris (and Paris in general, let’s be honest) beckon to her with its many ghosts.  She encounters one ghost, a child who is stirring up trouble and needs to be reminded of his history in order to move him on.  In order to do this she has to figure out his history with her ghost best friend and her saucy mentor before the chaos he creates kills someone.

So this is the sequel to City of Ghosts, which I also enjoyed last year, but I agree with its higher rating on Goodreads.  I loved the Scotland setting in the previous books, but having been to Paris and those very catacombs myself, Schwab wrote about it with such detail and clarity I was totally back in that city. The catacombs are such a cool setting too.  But I thought the plot was more accessible, a small child causing chaos who needs to be stopped but with the added snafu of figuring out his history. I LOVE ghost TV shows because I like dark history, and probably like ghost stories for the same reason.  This one was super fun, and I can see where it would be super scary for the middle grade audience it is intended for.   I need to read so much more of her and I know it.  I have more of her works.  This is Halloweeny because it’s ghosty, but the theme of a kid managing an ability and concealing it from her parents in exotic locales is something that could be enjoyed any time of year. But, it’s fall, so GHOSTS.

So I think I have binge read enough during these last few weeks to return to weekly posts. No one should be surprised because it’s scary fall reads time and those are my favorite bingies. I can easily fill nine/ten Sundays of fall reading posts, and I know being consistent is better for my readership. I have a few posts waiting on my drive file and I’ll probably finish another witchy book today. And I took this week off, so more reading! Get psyched!

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On that Weird Cusp of Late(r) Summer

Sunflowers were trendy when I was in high school and I liked to fancy myself a free thinker at that time, but maybe a little because we weren’t as likely to get the trendy stuff, being 45 minutes from a mall with no internet to speak of. So I wasn’t into them then. To cool for me.

But I’ve recently fallen in love with them in their own right, their vivid beauty signaling that summer is moving on. They are a crossover between summer and fall, can be seasonal for both of those times. I am begrudgingly accepting the cooler days and the sooner nights, the fall flavors starting to pop up everywhere. Not ready for a pumpkin coffee myself but I don’t begrudge those who are. I used to love fall. Now I desperately cling to any last vestiges of summer. I feel traitorous to myself that I tried Bath and Body Works new Sweater Weather scent and I LOVE it and I am wearing it in August. Not. Sweater. Weather.

In keeping with that, I am starting my fall reads with books that can be Halloweeny but can be good for any time. The classic Witch cozy mystery, of course.

Miss Spelled, Morgana Best

Amelia has a bad week.  She loses her boyfriend, her job, and is evicted all in the same week.  She’s saved by a letter telling her she has inherited her grandmother’s business, which she finds out when she arrives at her new home that it’s a bakery, and she’s hopeless in the kitchen.  Not only is it a bakery, but she finds out she has magical powers, AND someone is murdered in her new bakery.  So she has to make heads and tails of all that!

My energy levels have been inconsistent, to say the least, since the coronavirus hit us in full force, and I read this one way before witchy read time to let my brain experience the guilty pleasure of a witch cozy.  And this very much is a guilty pleasure for house chores.  I think I mopped the floor and did some gardening while I listened.  It may have been a little predictable, but that has its place.  Some of the witch books I’m reading are grave and scary, but sometimes, it’s nice just to have some magic and be a young woman just trying to find her way. I would absolutely check into another Morgana Best witch cozy.    Which is good, because combing the goodreads site it looks like there are a ton of them in the Kitchen Witch series alone.  The next one, Dizzy Spells, looks higher rated AND she has Halloween cozies in the series.  She has other series too.

Southern Magic, Amy Boyles

This one follows the same formula as Miss Spelled:  Pepper loses everything in a day only to find out she inherited a magical business from a magical grandmother she never knew, only to find out she is magical as well, complete with an unknown ability to talk to animals.  It’s a business pairing familiars to owners, and she doesn’t like animals.  She decides to sell the business in this magical Magnolia Cove but becomes a prime suspect in a murder, so is forced to stay while she solves the mystery so she can bust out of town.  It doesn’t help that the prime witness is a cat who is reluctant to speak with her about what she saw.  And of course there is a hunky police office who sounds like he might be harboring a dark secret of his own.

This one is more creative and I felt a little more fleshed out than Miss Spelled.  It follows the same formula, and that’s what mysteries do, but the business was creative with the pairing of familiars.  And I love the American South as a setting, even though I’d never be able to fit in there myself.  I’m not sure I understand the appeal, but there’s definitely a draw there.  This one is part of a developed series as well and it looks like there are at least werewolves mixed in for more paranormal fun. 

I am not ready to call this my Halloween Reads or do my usual opening to survey what’s lined up. I have definitely started the list as I do in August, but I’m not ready to make it official.

Also I had a request for a full manuscript for the first time ever!!! I sent it with joy and some crossed fingers.

Halloween Reads will start in earnest with the next post. Labor Day is the last hurrah of the summer so I can kind of swing it?

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